When we think of Italian food, images of pizza, pasta, gelato, tiramisu and risotto flash before our eyes. However, there are plenty of other delicious dishes to try when visiting Italy. Italian cuisine is incredibly diverse, and every region has its own specialities. To get you started on your culinary adventure, our Italian locals have suggested seven foods you simply must try.
Northern Italy is known for its polenta. Although polenta isn’t as famous as pizza or pasta, it’s a much-loved national food. It’s essentially a cornmeal porridge that can be eaten on its own or as a side dish. It’s very versatile and often comes grilled, baked or fried. Sweet tooths needn’t be disappointed – it’s used in cakes too!
Polenta prepared in various ways. Photo credit: Seph Swain
Cacciucco is a fish stew common to the regions of Tuscany and Liguria on Italy’s west coast. It’s typically made with octopus, squid, tomatoes, garlic, sage, wine and dried red chilli, with the addition of fish just prior to serving. It’s usually accompanied with garlic bread.
Photo credit: Susan Lucas Hoffman
3. Carciofi alla romana
Carciofi alla romana means “Roman-style artichokes”. It’s a very common Roman dish that’s widely prepared in homes and also served at restaurants. The artichokes are typically stuffed with mint, parsley and garlic before being braised in a mix of oil, wine and water. This dish is usually enjoyed as an appetiser.
Photo credit: Jay Cross
Piadina, also know as piada, is a thin Italian flatbread similar to Middle-Eastern pita bread and Mexican tortillas. It’s usually filled with prosciutto and arugula, or Nutella and slices of banana. It’s a popular street food and can be found on street corners throughout Italy. If you visit Turin, Crescia offers a variety of tasty piadinas.
Photo credit: Leonardo Angelini
Originating from Sicily, arancini are deep-fried stuffed rice balls covered in breadcrumbs. They’re typically filled with meat sauce, mozzarella, tomato sauce or peas. The shape and size of arancini differs depending on the region of Italy. In some parts of Sicily, they tend to have more of a conical shape.
Photo credit: stu_spivack
6. Vitello tonnato
Originating from the Piedmont region of Italy, vitello tonnato is a popular dish of cold sliced veal covered in a creamy tuna sauce. It’s mostly eaten in summertime and makes a great antipasto. Although the combination of meat and fish might sound a bit bizarre, it’s actually very delicious.
Photo credit: cyclonebill
Gelato (Italian ice cream) is very popular in Italy and many other countries throughout the world, but it’s not the only frozen dessert enjoyed by Italians. Semifreddo means “half cold” and refers to various semi-frozen desserts. It has a mousse-like texture as it’s typically made with equal parts of gelato and whipped cream.
Photo credit: Arnold Gatilao
Opening photo: Creamy polenta with pesto. Photo credit: Stacy Spensley